The Grammar Factor – May 2011

By Mary Morel | May 2001

Disorientate and disorient

Reader’s question: Which is correct – disorient or disorientate?

Answer: You can use either disorient or disorientate.

I found more information on orient and orientate than disorient and disorientate (the prefix dis implies a reversing of the action of a verb).

Here is what Michael Quinion says:

‘We have a minor oddity here, in that both orient and orientate come from the same French verb, orienter, but were introduced at different times, the shorter one in the eighteenth century and the longer in the middle of the nineteenth. There’s been a quiet war going on between the two of them ever since. I tend to use oriented and orientated pretty indiscriminately myself, choosing the shorter one when it seems to fit the flow of the sentence. Robert Burchfield, in the Third Edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, says “one can have no fundamental quarrel with anyone who decides to use the longer of the two words”. But all this is a British view, since here orientated is common; in the US it is less so and considered much less a part of the standard language. So, as always, it’s as much a case of who you are writing for and where you are doing so.’

First, secondly and thirdly

Reader’s question: I was editing a document and the writer used first, secondly and thirdly. Is this correct?

Answer: Yes, first, secondly and thirdly is correct, even though it looks odd. This usage is still common in academic writing. It’s simpler – and more consistent – to use first, second and third.

moneys or monies?

Reader’s question: The Australian Taxation Office’s website uses moneys and monies interchangeably.Which is correct?

Answer: You can use either. In everyday usage, most people use money, not monies or moneys.

I earned so much money last year, I considered retiring.

Money can be made plural in tax and accounting documents for individual sums of moneys/monies.

You can’t reclaim moneys/monies already invested.

Although you can use either, the Australian Taxation Office website should be consistent in its word choice.

State of the art

Reader’s question: What is the origin of the expression state of the art?

Answer: It’s a month for quoting Michael Quinion! This is what he has to say about state of the art:

‘The suggestion in the Oxford English Dictionary is that the phrase started out in the late nineteenth century as status of the art, in other words, the current condition or level which some technical art had reached. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the phrase had changed to its modern form with the same meaning of “the current stage of development of a practical or technological subject”. It may have changed its form by a simple mistake, or by the process that grammarians call folk etymology or popular etymology, by which words change to fit speaker’s misconceptions of their real meanings. By the 1960s the word had shifted sense slightly to the way we use it now, which implies the newest or best techniques in some product or activity.’   

The power of words – it’s not what you say, but how you say it

Thanks to the reader who sent this link – the video is worth watching. 

More on OK

Thanks to the reader for the link below – Fran Kelly on the ABC Radio National breakfast show interviews American academic Allan Metcalf, who’s written a book entitled OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.

Pet peeves

A reader commented on how the word space is becoming a weasel word. I hadn’t noticed, but now I am aware of it, I am noticing expressions such as watch this space, not in a good space, waste of space.

Word of the month


The American Dialect Society chose app as its word of the year for 2010. Did you know there are now apps for the Australian Oxford Concise and Mini Dictionaries?



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